Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang attracted an enormous crowd of PCC students at Harbeson Hall last week for the presentation of his new book “Boxers and Saints.”
“It was spectacular!” said Dr. Doosdeemalachanok Thongthiraj, Asian Pacific Islander Visiting Scholar (APIVS) committee member. She estimated that over 200 students attended. “He is a real celebrity.”
Yang is the author of the award-winning graphic novel “American Born Chinese,” National Book Award finalist “Boxers and Saints,” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series.
Stephen Lee, art, summed up why so many students showed up to see Yang speak.
“I like graphic novels, I like Gene Yang, and there’s free food,” he said. “You can’t beat that.”
Thirty minutes before the event, free Chinese food was served to attendees as part of the Cross Cultural Center and AVIPS event in honor of Asian Pacific Islander month.
Some students came specifically because they were fans of Yang’s work.
“I’m excited to see this speaker because he is the “Avatar” creator,” said Zione Hong, art. “I love that series and I love his work.”
Tony Salinas, theater art, said he really enjoyed the “Avatar” television series and that Yang kept the spirit of the series in the comics.
“That is the most important thing for me,” he said. “If (the comic) doesn’t have the same spirit, it’s not a real continuation.”
Some came because of his success as a comic book writer.
“I was curious about the speaker because I saw my friends reading his books and I wanted to see how he became so successful,” said Daniel Cho, automotive technology.
Others came because of the extra credit offered by some professors.
“I think it is very culturally rewarding and culturally stimulating,” said Joseph Beltran, sociology, “but no one would be here if not for the extra credit involved.”
The students lined up 20 deep before and after the presentation to take pictures with Yang and to get his autograph, proving that everyone wasn’t there for extra credit.
While Yang did talk about his trajectory from self-published writer to writing the “Avatar” comic series for Dark Horse Comics, the primary focus of his presentation was on his newest graphic novel “Boxers and Saints”. It is set during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, following a protagonist on each side of the conflict. It took Yang six years to complete.
“The Boxer Rebellion embodied the conflict between Eastern and Western ways of thinking, which I personally have felt at different times in my life,” he said. “I think that anybody, especially an immigrant’s kid, who grows up in between two cultures will feel these conflicts from time to time.”
The protagonist in Yang’s other graphic novel, “American Born Chinese,” is an American-born Chinese student going through high school and the challenges he faces because of his heritage.
Before the “Boxers and Saints” presentation, Yang conducted a question and answer session in Thongthiraj’s Asian American Literature class on “American Born Chinese.”
“It is thrilling for an author to have people take your work seriously,” Yang said. “It was obvious from their questions that they did a deep read.”
Thongthiraj said the APIVS program had wanted someone who would be a well known Asian-American author, artist, or scholar to hopefully have a good turnout.
“It exceeded my expectations in interest and in turn out,” she said.